Chicago, the largest city in the Midwest, has long been known as a bustling hub of industry. As a booming city, Chicago became a center for industries like construction, manufacturing, bricklaying, building demolition, and other occupations that built the city from the ground up. Unfortunately, these industries are among those at the highest risk of dangerous asbestos exposure and its corresponding disease, mesothelioma. For over seven decades, countless workers experienced deadly levels of asbestos exposure in industries ranging from automotive mechanic work to shipbuilding.
A rare and aggressive cancer, mesothelioma affects the lining of the lungs, abdomen, and testicles. Exposure to asbestos is the only known cause of mesothelioma; the fiber is very delicate and easily becomes dust, which is then inhaled. Asbestos is heat-resistant, making it a prized material in insulation, manufacturing, and more. Victims most commonly experienced this deadly exposure in the workplace due to the material’s widespread industrial uses. While asbestos use has been limited, the United States does not yet have a complete ban on the material.
Because Chicago is home to numerous industries, many Chicago workers have been at risk of asbestos exposure. In the early 1970s, government agencies like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began to regulate asbestos and other toxic substances, protecting workers. However, many workers exposed before then experienced higher rates of asbestos exposure. In addition, some asbestos-containing products remain in use today. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, 750 metric tons of asbestos were imported to the country in 2018.
Today, many former workers are at risk of a mesothelioma diagnosis. Those who worked in manufacturing, construction, insulation, or other industrial occupations continue to be diagnosed with the disease, which has no cure. Additionally, the continued use of asbestos-containing products poses a risk in both the home and the workplace. Recent lawsuits have alleged asbestos exposure through the use of personal care products such as baby powder and eyeshadow. In Chicago, individuals who worked at job sites in South Chicago, Morton Grove, Bellwood, and more likely used products that contained asbestos. For individuals who worked directly with the products, airborne asbestos posed a significant danger to their health later in life. Many of these effects are now coming to the surface as a generation of workers contracts mesothelioma.
Because asbestos was so widely used in buildings prior to 1980, many of the homes, offices, and schools in Chicago are at risk of containing asbestos products. As these asbestos products age and begin to crumble, occupants of the building risk inhaling the toxic fibers and damaging their lungs. To remove contaminated materials such as floor and roofing tiles or insulation, it is crucial to work with abatement professionals. These specialists work within strict removal guidelines that require the asbestos to be packaged while wet and set air quality requirements.
Although asbestos use in the United States has declined, the residual risks remain. Because mesothelioma takes decades to develop, individuals who began their careers prior to the implementation of asbestos regulation receive diagnoses in their retirement. In Chicago, a national hub of industry, numerous plants, and factories utilized asbestos-containing products. Even today, old asbestos material poses a risk.